All Brett Porter

It’s a cold day to be brewing
in the garage!

Just a forewarning – this is going to be a long post. This weeks brew is an all-Brettanomyces Brown Porter.  As readers of my blog know, I’m interested in wild brewing – I’m also a huge porter fan.  Today’s brew is a fusion of these two loves, forming what I hope will be a fantastic brew.  I find it odd that today’s wild beers are largely based on lighter beer styles, as wild yeasts such as Brettanomyces have a long and close relationship with darker beers.  Indeed, in its heyday (1800’s) Porter was one of the most widely brewed styles of beer.  Aged porters (often labelled as ‘Stock’ or ‘Stale’ porter) usually had gone through a secondary ferment with Brettanomyces that was resident in the ageing barrels. This flavour was reputedly a cherished and desired for characteristic by many beer consumers.

Todays brew is a modern twist on this old tradition – instead of secondarying with Brett I am instead using it as the sole yeast in the beer.  This is not as simple a task as one might expect – brewing all-Brett dark beers is a challenge for a range of reasons. One issue is that Brett has a tendency to accentuate the astringent aspects of dark malts.  Meaning the normal mild astringency in porter, provided by chocolate & other dark malts, can be converted by Brett into an unpalatable mouth-drying astringency.  Moreover, the polyphenols found in the hulls of darker malts can act as substrates for the enzymes in Brett which create unpleasant mousy and plastic flavours (e.g. 4-ethyphenol). As such, careful planning of the recipe and brewing methods are required to minimize the formation of these unwanted flavours.  Lastly, bretts digest a lot of the dextrins that provide body, meaning we have to provide body through other mechanisms.

But the use of Brett offers a number of interesting possibilities – most notably, the unique impact Brett  has on flavour.  Brett produces a rage of unique flavours through two mechanisms. The first of these are fermentation products, both phenols and esters. While the phenols can be desired (leather & earthy flavours/aromas) they can also be undesired (burnt plastic, mousy, old socks). The esters, however, are a unique canvass for us to work with – citrus & tropical fruits, cherries, stone fruits, etc, are all part of Bretts flavour/aroma palate. In addition, Brett expresses β‐glucosidase, an enzyme which allows Brett to degrade unique carbohydrates such as cellulose (wood) and some hop compounds. The later hop derivatives can also create some unique flavours/aromas, especially those of tropical fruits like papaya & mango.

Like I said, this is going to be a long post, so more details, the recipe & brewday notes are below the fold.

Choosing a Strain:

Choosing a strain of brett to use with a dark beer is a bit of a challenge. Phenol-intense strains need to be avoided in order to limit the production of undesired astringent and burnt-plastic off-flavours (which are an issue, given the use of polyphenol-rich dark malts). Moreover, we need to pick a strain whose ester profile works with the flavours of dark malts.  The first strain that jumps to my mind is Wyeasts Brettanomyces lambicus (WY5526), which is renowned for a mild phenol profile and a wonderful cherry-pie character. Cherries work great with dark beers, and are very popular with stout brewers. Despite its near-perfect profile, there is one issue – my yeast bank is crammed full of Brettanomyces strains that I want to use and W5526 is not (yet!) among them.  Sadly, the White Labs brett strains WLP650/653 (bank #32 & 33), DCY yeasts (#46), the DCY yeasts C1 & C3 (#67 & 68) are known to be phenolic. This leaves one all-brett mix in the batch – the brett I purified from Russian River Sanctification (#69). Luckily, it has a profile that should work – citrus (lemon peel), oak & grapes in place of cherries, but these flavour should still work well with darker malts. Likewise, a muted phenolic character that leans towards funk aromas should balance out nicely.

Formulating a Recipe:
To reduce the likelihood of producing undesired off flavours it is necessary to modify the typical porter recipe and brewing process to prevent the extraction of the undesired flavour precursors that brett can convert into downright nasty flavours. Mainly, we are targeting polyphenols, which are found in the husk of the grain – especially in the roast malts. My base grain bill is a classic porter bill:

  • 3.85 kg Marris Otter
  • 0.5 kg Crystal 60L
  • 0.4 kg Chocolate Malt

Brewed with conventional English ale yeasts and some fuggels hops this recipe makes a nice brown porter.  With brett this brew has the potential to be both highly astringent (due to the chocolate malt) and very thin bodied due to the consumption of dextrins.  So we need to make a few small changes. Three-quarters of the chocolate malt will be replaced with a dehusked dark malt – balckprinz (AKA Carafa Special III).  This will provide the flavour of chocolate malts without astringency from the roasted husks.  One quarter of the chocolate malt remains to provide a better flavour profile.  A handful of oats are added to provide body, in the form of the glucans (carbohydrate-coated proteins that are resistant to degradation by brettanomyces).  So the grain bill now becomes:

  • 3.85 kg Marris Otter
  • 0.5 kg Crystal 60L
  • 0.3 kg Blackprinz Malt
  • 0.1 kg Chocolate Malt
  • 0.2 kg Rolled oats

Despite our recipe modifications we still need to make extra efforts to avoid polyphenol extractions and thus the formation of harsh phenolic flavours like burned plastic. This is rather simple – we ensure our mash and sparge never gets over 75C (167F) and if fly-sparging, that we keep our sparge water at proper pH (5.2 – 5.6) and run-off gravity above 1.010. I’m batch sparging, so this is easy – no mash-out, and sparge water heated to 75C.  Efficiency will be hurt slightly, but a few cents extra malt is a better option than an undrinkable beer.

The Recipe:

All Brett Brown Porter
Brown Porter
Batch Size (fermenter): 21.00 lBoil Size: 26.53 l
Boil Time: 60 min
3.85 kgPale Malt, Maris Otter (3.0 SRM)Grain177.8 %
0.50 kgCaramel/Crystal Malt – 60L (60.0 SRM)Grain210.1 %
0.30 kgBlackprinz Malt (500.0 SRM)Grain36.1 %
0.20 kgOats, Flaked (1.0 SRM)Grain44.0 %
0.10 kgChocolate Malt (350.0 SRM)Grain52.0 %
50.00 gFuggles [4.50 %] – Boil 60.0 minHop627.4 IBUs
15.00 gFuggles [4.50 %] – Boil 15.0 minHop74.1 IBUs
1.00 tspIrish Moss (Boil 10.0 mins)Fining8
1.0 pkgRussian River BrettYeast9
Beer Profile
Est Original Gravity: 1.053 SGEst Final Gravity: 1.012 SG
Estimated Alcohol by Vol: 5.3%Bitterness: 30 IBUs
Est Color: 31.7 SRM
Mash Profile
Mash Name: Single Infusion, Medium Body, Batch SpargeTotal Grain Weight: 4.95 kg
Sparge Water: 19.11 lGrain Temperature: 22.2 C
Sparge Temperature: 75.0 CTun Temperature: 22.2 C
Adjust Temp for Equipment: TRUEMash PH: 5.20
Mash Steps
NameDescriptionStep TemperatureStep Time
Mash InAdd 12.63 l of water at 74.6 C66.7 C60 min

Sparge Step: Batch sparge with 2 steps (5.72l, 13.39l) of 75.0 C water

Mash Notes: Simple single infusion mash for use with most modern well modified grains (about 95% of the time).
Carbonation and Storage
Carbonation Type: KegVolumes of CO2: 2.0
Brewing: Single-stage, 30 days

Created with BeerSmith

A new pot & warm boots
make a cold brew-day

Once again I find myself shivering in the garage while brewing; while happy wife = happy life, sometimes keeping her happy (by not brewing in the house) has some real drawbacks! But warm boots, a jacket and a toque make it bearable.  Because its cold (about -7C) and extremely windy I mashed-in a few degrees warmer (77C instead of 75C) to account for the heat-loss during mash-in. I hit mash temp dead-on, and by wrapping a sleeping bag around my mash tun I managed to keep the temperature within a degree of where it should be. I’m starting to think some sort of recirculating system may be in order.

My efficiency was higher than normal 83%, up from 75%; I think this is a good sign that I’m dialing in my new grain mill to an ideal (and hopefully consistent) setting.  I had to slightly modify the hop schedule as the alpha-acid content was lower (4.3%) than modelled in beersmith (4.75g); I kept the bittering addition the same and upped the flavour addition by 10g, restoring my planned 30IBU while adding a bit more hop character to the brew.  The rest of the brew-day was uneventful; during the boil I built a door for the pantry I just built in the basement and started work on a deadman for my tablesaw (you know you’re having a slow brew-day when other chores can get done).

Obviously, a lot of research went into preparing this recipe & post – I hope the beer works out after all that work!  My main resources for this was:

5 thoughts on “All Brett Porter

  • October 14, 2016 at 7:40 PM

    Sounds like a real nice recipe! How did this turn out?

  • January 19, 2014 at 8:44 PM

    Thanks for the feedback – I'm happy to hear others are having success with Brett in non-classical styles. I'd point out that the wyeast B. lambicus isn't phenol negative; it simply produces less than other strains (such as the white labs B. lambicus).

    I'm expecting the ferment to take about a month, and will be posting about how it works out (good or bad) then.


  • January 19, 2014 at 8:12 PM

    Good stuff. I've been getting more into brett- got some wonderful pineapple/mango in an IPA I made with 100% brett, and just yesterday I brewed up a barleywine and pitched US-04 and WLP653. I had no idea about the interaction with the dark malts- thankfully there aren't any in this brew. I had also assumed the white labs and wyeast lambicus strain were basically the same; its interesting that one is phenol positive while the other is not. But a roastier beer is definitely something I have been meaning to brett- I'll be on the look out for your review of this one.
    – Dennis, Life Fermented Blog


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